8 Signs of Good Work Culture—Even at a Remote Company

Follow these signs to a great remote job.

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Before joining the team at Skillcrush, I spent a lot of time thinking about what it would be like to work from home full-time, making my own hours courtesy of a remote job. I talked to friends who work from home about the pros and cons of a remote company, the isolation versus the freedom, the benefits of being able to work whenever and however you work best, or—for those who weren’t cut out for it—the problem when you can’t self-motivate to work at all.

What we didn’t talk about was what an ideal remote company or job should look like. Because the thing is, for all those jokes about wearing off-screen pajama bottoms on Skype calls, there are countless remote companies that just aren’t that great. And then there are the remote jobs (some of which my friends have held) where you feel isolated, uncertain, and frustrated.

That’s why today, we’re talking about how to recognize some of the signs of a great company culture, even when you’re applying for a remote job—and some of the signs to look out for when it’s an opportunity that you should give a hard pass.

Signs of a Good Work Culture at a Remote Company

First up, let’s talk about fully remote companies. I’m making a distinction here because there are also companies that hire an occasional remote worker, but aren’t remote. Those kinds of companies have their own signs to look out for, so if that’s you, skip to the next section.

It’s Clear From the Interview That Feedback is Encouraged

Fun fact: the team at Medium encourages feedback from the moment you step into an interview.

As Gabe Kleinman, Medium’s former Head of Product Marketing, explains, “[In interviews], we want candidates to teach us something?—?anything. They show us their taste (compelling topic selection?), dynamism (presentation skills + question response?), and influence (did people stay after to speak with her/him?). And, we all learn something new regardless.”

You need to trust that your voice will be heard—especially if you’re far away from colleagues. As you interview for a role, pay close attention to whether the hiring manager mentions “open dialogue” or how often the team brainstorms on projects together. If you don’t hear it—ask.

There’s Plenty of Facetime with Colleagues (And Also Your Boss)

A great remote company shouldn’t feel all that different from a company with an office.

“That whole ‘make your own hours’ thing sounds pretty cool, at first. Until it ends up meaning ‘your hours are pretty much all the time.’ Or just as bad, ‘my hours are whenever I want, and you’ll never know if I’m available.’” says Laura Roeder, founder of Meet Edgar (which is a 100% remote team), “The structure of regular hours is the type of agreement that benefits both parties – your team knows they’ll have the work/life balance that comes with set start/end times, and you know when you can get in touch with the people you need.”

At Skillcrush, we spend our mornings syncing up on video conferences including a 15-minute “daily” in which each team just…talks. In fact, our 15-minute meeting often expands to half an hour because a good chunk of it revolves around us making the sort of small talk you’d usually get at lunch. We also use Slack all day, every day.

But talking to colleagues isn’t enough—you should also have regular contact with your boss and other teams. We do this by hopping into other team meetings regularly and setting one-on-one meetings with our managers. If there’s even a hint at a remote company that you won’t have easy access to your boss or team, it’s probably a bad sign.

You’re Given Tools to Help You Communicate

There should be lots and lots of tools, in fact. Not to excess, but if you’re interviewing for a job at a remote company, consider asking the hiring manager what tool they use to organize and manage projects and to communicate. For the marketing team, the list feels significant but also essential: Slack, Jira, a robust Wiki, Google Hangouts, Zoom.

Other teams at Skillcrush from the team that designs the curriculum for our tech courses to the developers who build them use a slightly different set of tools, but ask anyone here and they could rattle them off without a second though. So, if the person interviewing you doesn’t have an answer, start looking for an exit.

There are Clear Goals for You, Your Team, and the Company

You need to understand the goals you’re working towards at any company but that’s especially true when it comes to remote company. We use OKRs (a la Google) at Skillcrush while other companies use SMART goals or other formats. It doesn’t matter what the company uses so long as there’s a clear feedback loop with regular check-ins and regular assessments of progress. In a job interview at a remote company, consider asking the question: If hired, what are the main goals I’d be tasked with completing?

It Just Feels…Transparent

“I know that I am among the luckiest, most blessed human beings to have ever existed on the planet since the dawn of time…That’s not exclusively because of finances (no debt and $26,961.98 in the bank as of tonight) or the era and country into which I was born (though those are huge contributors), but because of how I experience the world.”

That’s from an article by Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz and now SparkToro. It doesn’t get more open than a tech company’s founder giving you his account balance, right?

When you’re working remotely, communication is more than everything. Here at Skillcrush, we believe in what our founder and CEO, Adda, calls “radical transparency”—straight down to our salary tiers. It’s the only way a company like ours thrives.

So in a job interview for a remote company or role, pay close attention to how the hiring manager describes the work environment. No company is perfect! Is she comfortable discussing areas they’re working on improving? When you ask about the goals, does she open up about why those are top priority? So if it feels like a closed door policy, skip it.

Ideally, You Meet Your Potential Colleagues

When I interviewed at Skillcrush, the last round of the process was meeting everyone I’d work with directly. I talked to the people I would oversee, the people I’d work closely with, my boss again… The point is, at a remote company, your colleagues are everything. The best remote companies will make sure that you get to meet them to see if you jive. While it isn’t a total dealbreaker if a hiring process doesn’t include a peer-to-peer meet-up (some companies just don’t), it’s something to keep on your radar.

Signs of a Good Work Culture for Remote Workers

OK, so what if you’re applying to work at a job where some or most of your colleagues go into the office every day? If you’re the work-from-home minority, there are some other signs of a good company culture to look out for.

They Can Answer the Question, “How Do You Keep Your Remote Team Looped In?”

Seriously—ask! If you’re considering taking a job where you’d be working with a team that’s in the office together every day, the company or team should have some clear processes in place to make sure you feel included. If it doesn’t seem like there’s much structure—or that you’re just on your own to get your tasks done—that may or may not be a warning sign. If you’re great with working independently (maybe you’ve worked as a contractor or freelancer before), then you can probably handle the isolation. If not, it might not be the right fit.

There Are Regular Meetups (Ideally, In Person)

If your team is based in New York, and you’re in Bozeman, Montana, don’t underestimate the opportunity to travel to meet up with everyone once in a while. Whether it’s for a retreat or just something you plan on once or twice (or more) a year, getting to know your coworkers in-person will help you feel more connected. When interviewing, touch on the subject in your final questions to get a gauge on how many opportunities like that exist in your company.

There’s a Professional Assessment Process in Place

In a remote job at a less remote company, you’re going to need a feedback loop—a formalized one—more than any other role. In the unfortunate event of any layoffs or company realignment (and hopefully this never happens!), it might feel easier for management to let a remote worker go simply because they’re not someone you see and bond with every day. That doesn’t have to be the way it goes! A great company culture that respects its remote workers will have a clear feedback process in place, so that you’re regularly checking in with your manager to discuss your progress (and so you know if you need to improve in certain areas before they become problems). Look for the companies that plan for potential problems and act on the first signs, rather than leaving you hanging. You won’t regret it.

So there you have it: eight signs of a great company culture for remote work. If you’re spending a lot of time (like I was) thinking about how to land your first remote job, consider giving tech a try. Trust us: everyone loves a web developer or web designer, no matter what time zone she’s in.

Get Our FREE Essential Guide to Finding a Legit Remote Job in Tech

Get Our FREE Essential Guide to Finding a Legit Remote Job in Tech

Say goodbye to the 9-to-5. Learn the steps you can take TODAY to get a remote job.

Posted by Web Monkey